Digital Underground Digital Biography
Digital Underground is an alternative rap group hailing from Oakland, California. This multi-member hip-hop band played a big part in giving West Coast rap the spotlight. Their leader was Greg “Shock G” Jacobs, who spent most of his youth in New York City and southern Florida. Heavily influenced by the various funk bands of the 1970s, Digital Underground sampled their music frequently, which quickly became a defining element of west-coast rap. Their ‘alternative’ status owes much to their unabashedly spaced-out image, which lay in contrast to the gangster rap that most west coast acts focused on. Album cuts frequently droned on until well over the five-minute mark, giving albums a jam-session feel (and likely, making radio singles hard to finger).
Supposedly, the group's original image was set up to be a tribute to social activists The Black Panthers, but when Public Enemy became a prominent band, Jacobs supposedly chose to take the group's image in a more whimsical direction, that of an updated Parliament-Funkadelic for the hip-hop audience. He even took to designing detailed covers and cartoon-laced liner notes for the band, in tribute to the similarly constructed album jackets from Parliament-Funkadelic.
They are also notable for catapulting member Tupac Shakur into the spotlight.
Their first album, 1990’s Sex Packets, was named after a sketchy invention idea Schmoovy Schmoov (Earl Cook - early member) had for a hallucinogen that could induce orgasm. To promote the album, a fake newsletter was circulated to California medical clinics, for which the ‘sex packets’ even got notice in USA Today (the newsletter claimed that NASA was secretly developing them for astronauts, as relief from extended space stints). "Underwater Rimes" was an early single that became a surprise hit in the Netherlands. "Doowutchyalike" was an underground American hit in 1989.
"The Humpty Dance" was a crossover club hit. Sex Packets (recorded with Chopmaster J, Money-B, DJ Fuse) became a hit after "The Humpty Dance" went to #11 on the pop charts. The album received platinum status, selling over 1 million copies. The LPs Sons Of The P (1991), The Body-Hat Syndrome (1993), Future Rhythm (1996), Who Got The Gravy? (1998), and The Lost Files would follow.
As Shock G, Jacobs was a cool, breezy-voiced commentator. On the other hand, his secret alter ego, Humpty Hump, was an uninhibited clown in a Groucho Marx glasses/nose combo and pimp-inspired clothes. At concerts, a stand-in would silently play either one person or the other, and when a smoke bomb dropped (or some other trick), Jacobs would switch gears (and clothing) and rap as the other person. A fictional biography was constructed for Humpty, the story being that "Edward G. Humphreys" had become a musician after burning his nose in a kitchen accident with a deep-fryer. Jacobs also performed as a character by the name of MC Blowfish on "Underwater Rhymes".
The group were also featured in the Dan Aykroyd flop Nothing But Trouble, performing "Tie the Knot" in a wedding scene. A video for the single "Same Song" featured clips from the film. (This video also featured the first appearance by a young Tupac Shakur.)
The band also orchestrated a handful of spin-off acts, including Gold Money (Pee Wee and Bigg Money Odis) and Raw Fusion (Money B and DJ Fuse). They discovered and catapulted Tupac Shakur to fame (he was a dancer and roadie for the band before joining as a full member and subsequently getting his record deal). Saafir was also a dancer for Digital Underground.
Their group work stands on its own, however. The band hasn’t recorded in years, but still does tours, and Jacobs still maintains a relationship with the core members, releasing a solo LP (as Shock G), Fear of a Mixed Planet, in 2004.
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